WEDNESDAY, 3 AUGUST 2022
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plans for a better future; Productivity Commission report; Territory rights; Fuel excise.
ANDREW LEIGH, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES AND TREASURY: Good morning. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. It's my 50th birthday today, and 50 years ago it was just on the cusp of the election of the Whitlam Government, a great reforming Australian government that changed the lives of so many Australians for the better. And it's a real pleasure today to be celebrating my 50th birthday as part of the Albanese Labor Government, a government strongly committed to making life better for Australians by taking action on climate change, taking on cost of living pressures, and making sure that we tackle the key challenges of inequality, slow productivity, and declining social capital.
In Australia today, we've had an economy which has been too stagnant, in which productivity growth has languished after nine years of neglect from the Coalition. The Productivity Commission's interim report today lays bare some of the real challenges that the Australian economy faces, and makes clear that the Productivity Commission's five year review is going to take a hard look at some of the challenges around building innovation, around ensuring that we've got a more skilled Australian economy, around making sure we've got cheaper energy prices, and ensuring that we have infrastructure which is focused on the needs of Australians, not the political imperatives of the Coalition.
An Albanese Labor Government is committed to making life better for Indigenous Australians, and you saw that in the Prime Minister’s speech to Garma on the weekend and the roadmap that's laid out towards an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. We want to work with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, bringing the country together in order to finally do right by the First Peoples of Australia. It's extraordinary that our nation's founding document fails to acknowledge the central role of Indigenous Australians, and effectively suggests that the nation began in 1788 - not acknowledging those 60,000 extraordinary years.
And so it’s with enormous pride that I'm here as part of an Albanese Labor Government, a reforming and positive government, and a government that I hope will be in office for even longer than that great Whitlam Government that took office 50 years ago.
I'm also really pleased that today the House of Representatives will be voting on territory rights. This is an issue that I've campaigned on in two previous Parliaments. In the 45th Parliament, I moved a Private Member's Bill to repeal the Andrews ban, which prevents the territories legislating on voluntary assisted dying. In the 46th Parliament, I moved a Private Member's Motion, calling on the government to bring on that debate. And now here in the 47th Parliament, we're finally getting it done. An Albanese Labor Government, unlike the Coalition, is willing to have territory rights brought to a vote on the floor of Parliament. We're willing to have that sensible debate about repealing the Andrews ban, and ensuring that the discussion over voluntary assisted dying can take place in the territories.
We're now at a stage entirely different from that in 1997, when the Andrews ban came into place. Back then, the Northern Territory was moving ahead of any state. Now every state has legislated voluntary assisted dying, and it's absolutely untenable for the territories to be held back. So I'm very confident that that bill will pass the House of Representatives today, and hopefully it makes speedy passage to the Senate, allowing the territory legislatures to have a mature, calm and sensible discussion over voluntary assisted dying. I hope members of the House of Representatives, whether they’re for or against voluntary assisted dying, will recognise that this is fundamentally about the primacy of territory rights and will vote yes when the Bill comes to the floor today. Very happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Andrew, both Labor and the Coalition have a conscience vote on the territory rights bill. Do you think this the way to go?
LEIGH: Yes, I do. This is an issue which had a conscience vote attached to it when it was passed 25 years ago. I think it's appropriate today. I've framed it squarely as an issue of territory rights, but it is an issue of territory rights over voluntary assisted dying. So I respect those who choose to vote no today, but I firmly hope they're in the minority.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there will be many of your Labor colleagues that will vote no? Some said they may have reservations about voluntary assisted dying.
LEIGH: I expect there will be people on both sides of the House who vote no on the territory rights today. But I hope they're a small minority, and that the bill goes to the Senate with the overwhelming support of the House of Representatives.
JOURNALIST: The last time it came up for a vote in the Senate was 2018. I think a number, four or five Labor senators voted against it. I think they’re all still in the Parliament. Have you had conversations with those people? What do you think you can do to change their minds?
LEIGH: My focus at the moment has been on the House of Representatives. That's where the vote’s taking place right now, and I've had a range of thoughtful and respectful conversations with Labor members, Coalition members, crossbench members. I'm very keen to get that vote in the House as strong as it can be. And I've also been impressed by speaking to Coalition members who have said very firmly to me they don't support voluntary assisted dying, but they believe the right place for that issue to be debated is in state and territory Parliaments, and they'll be voting yes to territory rights today. I hope that's the position that the vast majority of the House of Representatives take.
JOURNALIST: Andrew, the government's held the line pretty firm on not extending fuel excise relief. Do you think that the inflation conditions would prompt any other kind of cost of living relief that wasn't considered before the election?
LEIGH: The cost of living relief we're focused on is getting a wage rise for minimum wage workers. We saw that 5.2 per cent minimum wage increase put in place by the Fair Work Commission following Labor's submission. We've got our cheaper childcare package, which brings down the cost of childcare for 1.26 million Australians. And our energy policy, which brings more renewables into the grid. The marginal cost of wind and solar is close to zero, and so we know that by bringing more renewables into the system we're going to put downward pressure on our prices for Australia. You see that here in the ACT, a 100 per cent renewables jurisdiction, and I think the only place in Australia where power bills are going down right now.
JOURNALIST: But what do you make of the opposition reversing its position, or having an unclear position on the extension of the fuel excise?
LEIGH: The opposition will flip and flop as it does. They're still getting used to life in opposition. They wanted the Job Summit to be cancelled, and then they wanted to be invited to it. They wanted to fuel excise pause to be cancelled, now they want it to be extended. The fact is that the opposition is still very clearly finding its feet. But my focus today is on the positive reforms the Albanese Government is putting in place, and the exciting opportunities for a kinder, stronger, fairer Australia led by Labor. Thanks everyone.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.